Her brothers came into our lives two weeks earlier. As we sat in a local McDonald’s, we were excited and anxious to finally meet this little girl we had heard so much about: our new daughter.
The minutes flew by, and then in walked the most adorable little 5-year-old ballerina. She was dressed all in pink and wearing a matching pink tutu.
I looked at my husband, two weeks into fatherhood, and saw the tears flooding his eyes as he met his new daughter for the very first time. I watched as he leaned over to explain to the boys that she was their sister. They were two and three years old.
Tears filled my eyes as I remembered a time when my own brother and sister were taken away and put in different foster homes. The feelings that flooded my heart were bitter sweet. This, coupled with the overwhelming needs of two adorable little boys who were suffering a great deal of unknown issues, already had me very concerned.
My concerns grew even greater as I watched this beautiful little girl leading her foster mother in a beautifully choreographed ballet aimed at meeting her every whim. I watched my husband as he sat misty eyed, already in love and completely clueless to the antics being played out in front of him.
Because family and children services was desperate to find an adoptive home to reunite the three siblings, and because of my eagerness to please my husband, we had bypassed all of the usual protocols and fast-tracked the adoption.
We agreed and signed the paperwork before ever seeing or meeting this wonderful little family of three. It is something that never should have been allowed, or encouraged.
The long drive home was even more concerning. I knew there was trouble brewing, but desperately wanted to reunite this little family and give my husband the greatest gift I could give, a family.
The days were long and the nights even longer. Our youngest, Jimmy, was a preemie and was still suffering effects of in utero drug use, which required that he be held upright all night long to breathe. Adrian suffered from failure to thrive, unrelenting toddler diarrhea, constant temper tantrums, undiagnosed developmental delays and possible autism (or so it seemed).
Our beautiful little girl, Anne, needed more attention than both of them put together. And if she didn’t get it, there were penalties for it.
The paperwork we read on the children seemed to be misleading. Or, written by someone who had never spent time parenting this little family. I was dying inside and I didn’t know what to do. I felt like a total and complete failure. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, overworked, sleep deprived, and quickly becoming depressed.
One day I was wearing a suit, beautiful heels and lived in the world of banking. Now, I lived in my pajamas because I couldn’t muster the desire, time, nor strength to change.
I raised two children on my own, I was a single mother for 17 years. My children were college educated and doing phenomenally. I thought I knew everything I could about parenting, but these three had reduced me to tears and rubble within a few short months.
I couldn’t understand. I grew up in foster care, I overcame brutal child abuse. I loved being a mother more than anything in life. We attended all of our training sessions, but nothing prepared me for what I was experiencing.
Our beautiful little girl had long since divided and conquered. Our case workers blamed everything on me and my past. No one supported me, they merely pointed fingers at me because I was complaining, making waves and making life hard on everyone. The more they blamed me, the louder I became and the more research I did trying to find some reason as to why this beautiful little family was in such chaos.
Every day brought a myriad of fights, crying and tantrums from all three. Anne was touching her brothers in private places, pushed them down the stairs, feeding them mushrooms out of the yard. There were pictures being drawn at school and brought home with guns shooting her brothers heads off, pictures of her and I fighting with daggers while my husband lay in bed beside me. No one seemed concerned except me.
Finally, three months later, a crisis intervention team got involved. Nobody at the time had any experience or training in RAD (reactive attachment disorder) or trauma. I was beside myself by now, and all fingers pointed at me.
I called DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services) and told them to remove Anne from my home as soon as possible. When they came, my husband was surprised there were no tears. He thought she had loved him as much as he loved her. I explained, yet again, how reactive attachment worked.
Months later, DFCS finally received our boy’s evaluations from the Marcus Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. Adrian suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and unknown learning disabilities. He tested slightly above mental retardation. However, I knew some of that was due to their neglectful and abusive foster environment. They had lived their entire life in foster care and came to our home unhealthy, nonverbal and way behind. Jimmy suffered from undiagnosed medical issues.
Our beautiful little girl suffered from an even longer list.
Today, I’m a better parent for the experience. I practice trauma-responsive care, even lead training sessions on it. I have a circle of support and I know where to go when I need help, advice, or merely a shoulder to cry on. We are still evolving, but it’s a start.
I can’t help but wonder if I had been equipped with these tools before this little family came into our lives, would the outcome would have been different?
I miss my sweet little girl every single day and my heart breaks for her. I feel I have let her down and feel I merely added to her list of laundry because I was not equipped with the correct tools, or support to parent a traumatized child.
I feel the system let me down because they did not arm us with the correct information to make an informed decision. Parenting children of trauma can often cause caregivers to become traumatized, or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
There are no statistics on broken foster care adoptions, so I have none to give you. And abuse is common, just ask the children. We must fight for total transparency in the system. I personally feel we need to allow journalists in the courtrooms. Only then will America become educated and informed on the issues, gaps and inadequacies of protecting our vulnerable, voiceless children who are left to courts to choose their fate.
If we continue to mask the realities of the system, the children will continue to suffer and failures like mine will continue to plague a system that has long been broken. And America will continue to be none the wiser.
Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.
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